CECILIA ZHANG, ELECTION CALL AND DICTATORSHIP.COM

Greetings,

CECILIA ZHANG: The worst possible outcome of this tragic situation has happened – the 10 year-old’s remains were found in a remote park near Eglinton Ave. West and Mississauga Road. The Zhang case has switched from a missing persons’ case to a homicide investigation. I truly feel for the Zhang family and hope they can find the strength to get through this.

ELECTION CALL: It looks like there will indeed be a federal election this spring. This will be the fourth federal election in nearly 11 years, which is remarkable considering that, before Jean Chretien, elections were always held in four to five year cycles – they’ve since shifted to three years, which, while important to maintaining the integrity of a government and the democratic process, may create voter burnout. We had two major elections – the provincial and municipal elections – last year and we’re heading to the polls again for the last time in probably about three years, which makes for an exciting election race. I believe Canadians of all ages (and it is vital that my age group, the twentysomethings, vote this time) are hungry for accountability in government, and this election will be a quasi-referendum on how the Liberal Party of Canada has managed the country’s affairs since 1993. Once a government passes the double-digit mark in terms of years in office, accountability becomes even more important with each passing year.

DICTATORSHIP.COM: Here’s a fascinating article from The New Republic on how the Internet isn’t leading to the great political revolutions espoused by academics and pundits less than 10 years ago. I wrote on this very topic last year for Shift Magazine and how political journalism on-line hasn’t lived up the potential it has. Yet this article makes some very interesting points regarding how the culture of digital activism simply doesn’t have the ability to reach a large enough number of people and connect with them in a meaningful way.

The core argument the author makes is simple: television and radio – the two most far-reaching and potent forms of media out there – are based on communal viewing and listening. In other words, the experiences we all have with, say, watching a CNN broadcast can either be individualistic (only I’m watching TV) or communal, whereas a whole bunch of people can experience a broadcast together and in a universal way. The Internet requires one to be literate, knowledgable about computers and is inherently non-communal in “viewing” a message – information only gets transferred through individual communication techniques like e-mail or instant messaging. Being web-savvy requires one to be educated, have easy access to computers and understand the dynamics of digital information sharing – the developing world doesn’t have the base of knowledge to make this happen. Sure, ordinary people can learn to work with the web easily, but what if you can’t read? What if the computers are run exclusively through government-approved servers (think China and Cuba, two countries that are Internet-friendly, but only on their terms)? How can political dissidents communicate effectively with their allies through the enemy’s networks? They can’t. Pirate radio frequencies are, however, cheap and easy to set up and aren’t run on the government’s dime.

This article, in my mind, only proves a reality that I’ve thought about for years – the Internet isn’t a true vehicle for political change. That’s why no broadcast service should consider getting rid of their “short-wave” radio services like Radio-Canada International, mostly because it’s still a very effective means in which to transmit information on a global scale without the use of Internet connections. Or that television is slowly but surely moving towards a model of web/TV integration – a TV-only signal ensures that a broadcast won’t be blocked by a nation-wide firewall or have parts of the broadcast deleted.

I’m one of the most Internet-friendly people you’ll ever meet. I love the web and love to talk about. But even I’m aware that the web’s anarchic roots don’t always lead to political revolutions – in fact, most often they don’t. The true test of political change is a willingness to employ digital means only when it is safe to do so – you must have a populace that quickly and safely get information without being tracked. It is remarkably easy to track a person’s web history but very hard to stop pirate radio signals. Revolutions happen only when a population has become so oppressed, so utterly stripped of their rights, that a group of people determined to get their rights back will find grassroots support for their cause of overthrowing a government.

The Internet is hardly grassroots in the developing world. So before anyone talks about the “digital revolution” or how the web will revolutionize life for the millions that, perversely, have never heard a phone’s dialtone (that’s right, 80 per cent of the world’s population have never actually heard a dialtone, let alone sent an email) or even have access to clean drinking water, maybe you should think that newer isn’t always better.

BRING ON BELLE DU JOUR, SEX AND THE CITY: DON’T COME BACK

Greetings,

There was a story in one of today’s papers about the hunt for a webmistress of sorts: Belle Du Jour, a London call girl, is posting her thoughts here. It’s already generated a huge sensation across the Pond, so much so that Belle has signed a six-figure book deal with a major British book publisher.

So with the worldwide sensation of Salem Pax – the Iraq war blogger who’s terrific war coverage earned him a publishing deal and a column in the British newspaper The Guardian – and the growing power of the Belle Du Jour site, two of humanity’s most talked about topics have brought blogging officially into the mainstream – sex and death.

Belle’s site is sexy without what I call the “Sex In The City” Factor – a pretensiousness and self-referentialism that only a gigantic ego can bring. Naturally, the blog has its detractors, people who believe that it couldn’t possibly be written by (in that unmistakable British tendency to think about class before ability) a temptress from the gallows of urban life. I can see it now: a tony pub near the Thames, full of aristocratic wannabes yearning for the Trans-Atlantic cachet of a place in both SoHo in New York City and a flat near London Bridge, drinking some dark-as-night ale in pint glasses and claiming moral superiority over those who sell their bodies for money. Meanwhile, no one in the pub is squeaky clean either. One’s probably cheating on his wife, another’s getting insider stock tips and the other’s so deeply in debt she’d be pulling herself out of the interest payments alone long after she’s dead.

I’d use the “glasses houses” metaphor here but it’s been beaten to a pulp.

I’ve never understood exactly why people feel the need to be self-righteous over “prostitutes” and what they do. It’s hard enough in a world so mindlessly self-interested, so unyielding towards others, that we’d pass judgment on people who have run out of options and simply need to pay the rent. Some are indeed addicted to hard drugs, no question there. Some are doing it as a side job on top of another, more “mainstream” form of employment. But many are doing it because they’ve got no choice. You either do something you don’t want to do (which is what the vast majority of us do every day of our adult lives, I might add) in your life to pay the bills, or you try to improve your lot in life. I’m sure many people in the world’s oldest profession don’t want to be there and are coming up with ways to get out, whether through school, getting better jobs or getting out from the clutches of a pimp or some other thing that ties them to the street.

The point is, judging someone for what they do is hypocritical and myopic. Everyone makes decisions in their lives that they regret – the key is to let go of the past and look forward to a future you have a choice over.

SEX AND THE CITY: The end for one of television’s most beloved shows came last night. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha’s adventures came to a close after six seasons and, in my mind, not a moment too soon.

I used to appreciate Sex and the City. For the first two seasons, it was the best written show on TV. It had four women who defied stereotypes and brought out a side of New York City in ways that would make Woody Allen blush. The sex was surprisingly hot at times (although it should be made known that Sarah Jessica Parker was the only one of the four leads never to go nude on screen, which is kind of odd considering that the series was always about Sarah’s character, Carrie Bradshaw) and the character development robust and engaging.

But then something happened.

By Season Four, the show degenerated into a hodge-podge of domestic set pieces, each more absurd than the last. It was inevitable: SATC’s hook – a quartet of sexually assertive thirtysomethings – became increasingly stale, and the writers tried to make the characters discover the “joys” of domestic bliss. Never mind the fact the show was, at the beginning, an unabashed fairy tale of materialism. Every action by Carrie and her friends was nearly consequence-free, every new shoe part of some unlimited bank line of credit only HBO could provide. It was fun, gloriously amoral and hedonistic.

Then Carrie wanted to get married to Mikhail Baryshnikov. Terrific, an episode entirely filmed at the Metropolitan Theatre! Sounds hot to me, break out the hot wax!

By the show’s finale, this “growing up” of the four leads proved that an endless revolution (that is, to say, that women can be as sexually outgoing as men) may be cool, but it’s always dated. The initial thrill of Sex and the City was, at least to some of my female friends, like an act of rebellion: women get this idiotic idea implanted in their minds from the moment of puberty that it’s not okay to enjoy sex, and that there is no middle ground between the Sweet Prude and the Nasty Slut stereotypes. Sex and the City nurtured that act of rebellion and encouraged it.

And we’re all better for it.

WHY YOU SHOULD GO WITH APPLE

Greetings,

APPLE COMPUTERS: I’m publishing this blog on a Windows-powered computer, but I have become a decisively pro-Apple person in the last few months. Unless Windows breaks some new ground with Operation Longhorn (the new Windows OS expected to replace Windows XP in 2006), this Windows computer will be my last.

This transition from PCs to Macs really began in earnest with my brother buying a PowerPC G4 computer about four months ago. It’s an exceptional piece of hardware. It runs effortlessly, organizes programs in a logical manner and has software pre-loaded that you can really use (think iLife, iCal, iTunes, et al). Because of this, I’m buying a Mac laptop for my Master’s program in Halifax.

Here are five good reasons to switch to a Mac:

1) Quality. Sure, Macs are more expensive than a PC. Sometimes significantly more. Yet there is method to Apple’s high costs – their computers are far superior to an ordinary, run-of-the-mill PC. A G4 computer, now the second-most powerful piece of hardware in the Apple product line just behind the G5 model (the most powerful personal computer in human history), is superior to some of the most advanced PCs out there. The speed, memory and technical achievements of a Mac ensure that any Apple product you buy will be built to last.

2) Software. Macs are head and shoulders above PCs in terms of their user-friendly products, yet Macs are unbeatable in terms of their ease of use regarding graphics and layout programs like Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress. Furthermore, the iLife product is the ultimate digital media suite: where else can you make a movie, DVD, photo or song integrate into one? Very few PCs can do this well.

3) Comfort level. While Macs aren’t good for programming in code (which is one reason while I’ll hold onto this PC) and aren’t as good in terms of games (another reason to hold onto this computer), anyone can use a Mac with relative ease. OS X 10.3, the Panther operating system for the latest editions of the G4 and G5 computers, is the best OS ever made for a computer. It ensures ease of use and a wide diversity of software applications can be used with 10.3. Besides, Macs have adopted various Windows products like Microsoft Office to ensure easy transitions between the 95 per cent of computers in the world that are Windows-powered and the, um, 5 per cent which are either Apple or Linux-based systems.

4) A sense of ownership. Windows dominates the world’s PC market. Yet something about a Windows’ product is a lack of “ownership” you have over your own system. Microsoft was recently fined by the European Union for 600 million Euros for anti-competitive behaviour due to refusing to “unbundle” certain software products like Windows Media Player. Apple? No problem. You hate a piece of Mac software? You can get rid of it if you like. You hate Windows Media Player? Just try getting rid of it. You can’t, and if you somehow eventually manage to do so, your system will be screwy. In other words, Apple assumes the customer has the right to configure their own computer if they own it. Microsoft won’t let you.

5) It’s just plain cool. A Mac signifies more than just a willingness to work with high-end digital media software or have easy and quick access to the web – it’s the mark of a thoughtful computer user. PCs are good, don’t get me wrong. But they lack the cachet of a Mac computer, a piece of hardware that has the mark of a “club” because so few people use them and they are so useful in so many ways. Plus, Mac laptops are not only strong but the clamshell design of an iBook or the steel exterior of a PowerBook just kick ass.

So there are some good reasons to get a Mac. While this sounds like a product promotion – something I promised not to do – I’m merely weighing the pros (and some cons) of switching to Macs.

WINE TIP O’ THE WEEK

Greetings,

Here’s this week’s wine tip.

The smell of a glass of wine is essential to appreciating it. You can’t really enjoy wine if you don’t sample the wide variety of flavours in it. There are well over 100 different chemical elements in a glass of wine that reflect many of our favourite “smells.” These smells develop through the fermentation process, which is highly dependent on the environment in which the grapes have been grown in and where (and especially when) the wine was bottled.

This also explains why the year of bottling is essential. If the weather was especially cold that year and not very good for grape growth, then the wine may take longer to ferment or may not be especially flavourful. Moreover, if the bottle of wine is flawed – too much fermentation, which leads to microbacteria which is harmless to humans – it will taste very bad. However, that’s hard to do these days with modern vineyards.

You must swirl the wine around in the glass before taking a sip. The older the wine, the greater diversity of flavours you’ll taste. But take that sniff first before you sip the wine, because otherwise you won’t full appreciate the flavours. Once you smell the wine, take a small sip back and move it around in your mouth. This will create a smell “template” for you to enjoy the rest of the glass and allow you to discover further flavours in it.

HAMAS, STEPHEN HARPER & FIVE THINGS I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT

Greetings,

It’s a late-night posting here tonight. The ambient music is playing quietly on iTunes and I’m overlooking my street. There’s nothing out there. The hues of street lighting – sometimes warranted, sometimes not – are present and glare back at me. During the power blackout last August, I can remember going out onto my back deck and looking out into a city with complete and total darkness. I saw the stars in their entirety for the first time in years. I miss that sometimes.

HAMAS: The full measure of the murder of assassinated Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin is having some serious effects in the Middle East. It has brought universal condemnation from the Arab world, the United Nations and various other global powers. It has completely mobilized the Palestinian people to the point where the Israeli government is now under serious threat from a series of major revenge attacks, as well as creating new breeding grounds for suicide bombers and recruits from other terrorist groups like Islamic Jihad and even Al-Qaeda.

This assassination will throw the entire Middle East in turmoil. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli PM not exactly known for his peace-loving mindset, is now in serious trouble. It is horrific and unfortunate what has happened, mostly because the leaders of both the Palestinian and Israeli governments have allowed the current Intifada to come to this: a major political force in the West Bank is dead, and the Palestinian people will want revenge. Peace in our time? The Oslo Peace Accord is dead. Anyone with a hope for peaceful change in the West Bank is either dead or powerless in the face of the military hawks that are in full command of the situation.

We can only hope that something, anything, will lead to peace someday. But, sadly, it will not be today.

STEPHEN HARPER: The former Alliance leader won a very decisive majority over former Magna President & CEO Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement. Harper now has command over a united conservative movement in Canada, which is the first time since 1992 that the Liberal Party has a true opposition to face off against. Suddenly, in the words of Rick Mercer from tonight’s episode of Monday Report, the Liberals have a serious problem on their hands. The next federal election, whenever that may be, won’t be a cake walk anymore. It’s going to be a war.

While I am a Liberal, I feel bad for Tony Clement. He’s one of the Ontario Tories I really respected while in government, mostly because he managed to put partisan differences aside during the SARS crisis and nearly lost his own health due to the stress of the situation. Him, along with John Baird, Janet Ecker and Ernie Eves were Tories I could respect and understand, mostly because they were never unreasonable or so rigidly ideological that nothing could ever get done. Tony’s going to win huge in his federal riding in the next election, and the same goes for Ms. Stronach.

THE FIVE EASY PIECES… OF LIFE: Sometimes this blog is about personal indulgence, for why have a blog if you can’t write about your own life?

I was influenced recently by a story I read regarding how people usually only need a few things on a constant basis in order to be happy. The obvious – friends, family, food, shelter and power – apply to everyone. However, every person is unique, and because of this fact, we all have our own preferences.

Here’s a very brief list of what I can’t live without…

1) Red Wine. My alcoholic drink of choice and the elixir of a cultured life.

2) Music. Essential and the all-purpose voice of a society.

3) Broadband Internet. I can’t imagine a world without the Internet now – I can’t even fathom how I was into dial-up before the speed of broadband.

4) Books. Still civilization’s greatest invention. Ever.

5) Green space. My brother’s far more educated on this topic than I, but I can appreciate how important “green” is.

Alright, it’s time to end this session on the Information Superhighway. Bet you hadn’t heard that term for a few years, eh? So, so retro.

THE TTC, DAWN OF THE DEAD & YOUR SENSE OF CHARITY (and a wine tip!)

Greetings,

I was on the TTC yesterday on the Yonge subway line for multiple meetings downtown. One of the fascinating aspects of public transit is how everyone, regardless of their income, gender or race or any other personal qualities, gets extremely uncomfortable when bunched up against others during rush hour.

I get on at the Bloor station stop to switch lines. I squeeze in, for everyone is feeling like a sardine: you’re getting to know someone up close and personal, whether you want to or not. You stare at the subway billboards, reading poetics and ads for community colleges in the city as if it all means something to the average person. You look around, wondering what certain people are doing today and where they are going. Indeed, the subway in Toronto is one of the few truly universal experiences of living in this great metropolis in the making.

The other interesting habit is how people are so self-directed on the subways that they view other people in a detached way, as if they exist only in a physical state and not an emotional, cerebral way. It’s almost as though you’re trying in desperation to find a private, personal space in a public arena by ignoring others. And the TTC doesn’t make it easy to feel comfortable around others or want to turn the subway into a more social experience: there are huge painted-on advertisements in stations for a certain electronic device that plays a whole whack of MP3s and other digital music files (I promised no more rampant advertising on this site – let’s just say it’s a product that a certain company with a fruit as its namesake and has a man named Steve Jobs as its CEO) On that note, I have a perfect segueway into a new movie that is released today…

DAWN OF THE DEAD: The much-anticipated remake of the 1978 horror classic is being released today to generally mixed reviews, although most critics agree that it’s a bloody, gory romp of a film. Shot last summer here in T.O., it stars T.O.-born and raised Sarah Polley of Road to Avonlea fame, Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Con Air) and Lindy Booth, an Oakville-born and raised actor also profiled in the new Toro Magazine.

It’s amazing how zombie horror is starting to become a mainstream genre; 28 Days Later was a huge hit last summer here in Canada and the U.S., and the new Dawn of the Dead could be the U.S. answer to the British-helmed 28 Days.

My brother Tim is hugely excited about this film – a whole bunch of us are going tomorrow to see the movie.

CHARITY: One of the lessons that university life teaches you is a sense of humility. It’s normally part of the University of Life curriculum but let me explain why universities can teach you to become a better person.

Undergraduates are some of the biggest complainers on earth. Sometimes those complaints are valid, such as the never-ending rise of tuition fees or inaccessibility issues, some are annoying, such as the predictable chorus of “residence food sucks” come October.

Yet at Queen’s, most students spend an incredible amount of time devoted to those “life lessons” that only come through experience. I’m a case in point. This sounds almost spiritual, but my greatest lessons came when I felt at my lowest, wondering what all my work had been for and if it even mattered. People can find their greatest salvation at the pit of dispair, given that the human spirit will, in spite of the odds, always move forward and won’t be broken.

My spirit hardened and became more self-referential as time went on while at Queen’s. I became more aware of my fragility and the fact that, while I couldn’t change Queen’s completely, I had contributed a small piece of myself to the great social agreement of history and prestige that is Queen’s. It was important, worthwhile and meaningful. I made myself better by giving myself freely to Queen’s as much as I did, and I hope Queen’s became better because of it. That may sound pompous and self-serving, but I hope I became a better man because of Queen’s.

Yet most importantly of all is that others can benefit out of your suffering. That’s why I’m still, even with the clock ticking towards my eventual journey to Halifax come August, contributing to life in the city that will always be home – Toronto.

Last night I became an active member of Habitat For Humanity, a non-profit housing charity that builds homes around the world for families in need. I’m hoping to help build a home soon and become part of something that provides tangiable, real results for people truly in need.

So the lesson is simple: sure, as an undergraduate, you’re paying a tonne of money and privy to the whims of people who don’t really care about you personally or even know you. But you’re learning something more valuable through the hard work, the late-nights, the bad instant coffee.

You’re learning to see yourself as a small part of a greater purpose – the drive for a more just, happier, equal society.

The Wine Tip of the Week:

One of the biggest problems people have with wines is that they know little about the differences between “types” of wine. Yet these differences are important, because it will determine which foods go best with which wine. For this week, here’s the red wines.

Before I give the run-down, it is generally common knowledge that red wine is the choice of wine drinkers for meaty dishes, specifically roasts and other meat products. Yet certain types of reds will allow certain flavours to emerge, which will make your food & drink experience that much tastier.

Cabernet Sauvignon – The richest kind of red there is. Full-bodied flavour; perfect for red meats and other “heavier” foods. Ideal for a roast.

Merlot – Much fruiter taste than the Sauvignon and easier to take when not accompanied by a meal. Very good with garlic potatoes and peppercorn steak.

Pinot Noir – very fruity/nutty wine with a wide variety of flavours. Medium-bodied which makes it less harsh on its own. Excellent choice for chicken or fish (although as a general rule, fish is better with a white wine).

Shiraz – Smokey red that is based in both France and Australia. This is a medium-bodied wine with a slight kick to it. A terrific, all-purpose red. A good choice for a rich pasta dish or something with a lot of tomatos or tomato sauce.

Zinfandel – Definitely the most peculiar of the reds. Zinfandel isn’t a “red” in the most traditional sense of the word, given that it can be fermented to create what’s known as a “blush wine” (not red, not white, but somewhere in between) all the way to fortified wine (I would strongly recommened against fortified wine during a meal – it’s not as good as it sounds, so wait until your dinner goes down and have a glass of port while just relaxing and chatting). This is a “summer” wine of sorts because when it’s a blush wine, it’s much easier to take than a heavy red and summer isn’t really a time for ultra-rich reds, especially when you’re eating outside with a slight breeze and the sun setting.